Our True Future

My name is Morgan Davies, and I am a writer.

They don’t even really have a name for what I write anymore. They used to call it Science Fiction, extrapolating a future of rocket ships and rayguns, but now they just call it Retro. It’s all steampunk, alternate reality, Flash Gordon serials and hish hash that gets it wrong more often than right. Some people still read it out of a certain juvenile need to escape, others out of a hazy nostalgia, but in the end the readers still dwindle. Of all the fiction genres, only Fantasy holds its own now, and then only barely, struggling from one Lord of the Rings clone to another since the whole mass of golden age masters fell into the public domain. Slice of life fiction, non-genre, everyday edge-of-romance fiction still festers in the public consciousness too, but its not the same. There’s just not a lot to write about anymore.

Technology has made everyone happy. We all wake up when we want to in the morning, which is to say we all wake up at seven AM, rested and refreshed, thanks to gene treatments offered under the flag of fashion medicine. It’s all one-shot these days, manufactured in your home under a single-use license that deletes itself after your ‘printer faxes one up. Anything you want, safe and easy, government approved and guaranteed to take effect while you sleep– that’s how it works. Anything you don’t like about yourself, your hair color, your eye color, your gender, your sexual preference, your depression, your insomnia, your skin texture, your age– these are all mutable. Just buy the license for whatever characteristic of the human condition you want to embody and slap the dime-sized patch onto your shoulder before you sleep. Wake up a man, a woman, elderly, pre-pubescent, totally reskinned and remapped like a character in a videogame. Most people stick with the twenty-something look they were born with, but there have always been those who follow fashion trends, no matter how bizarre.

Being a writer of Retro, I’ve always been a little outside the trends. Once or twice I’ve dialed up a new eye color, bought a license for a Star Trek-inspired body for the occasional Con in Tokyo, New York or Dubai, but on the whole I stick with the sixty-going-on-seventy look I’ve always felt looked properly distinguished when I first reached it by course of nature about three centuries ago. It’s a fashion choice that’s seen as, well, appropriately retro. It’s the presence I choose to represent the entity which is me, on the inside.

When I wake up in the morning, I feel good, clean, happy. Molecule-sized nanomachines have been sterilizing my skin and everything else in the apartment during the night, so there’s nothing to do. Breakfast isn’t hot or waiting for me, but as soon as I purchase the license for whatever my stomach is craving, it will be. My bed memory-folds itself back into neatness once I get up, and sensors in the wall detect my archaic thirst for coffee. Another piece of fashion medicine integrated into my genetic code gives me a shot of eye-opener, triggers the satisfied sensation that used to come after a relaxing morning lounging around on the couch, gently nursing a mug of the black stuff. I stretch, crack my sixty-year-analog back and stump into the livingroom.

You can’t really help taking food for granted anymore. You just think what you want and the 3D printer that is both your kitchen, your workshop and your store projects a selection of licenses you can purchase with a discount based on the number of whatever it is you want to manufacture. Mentally, I choose a single use contract for a Fiji green apple, three strips of bacon, two slices of french toast (Denny’s brand) agree to the terms, the safety disclaimers and all the rest. The cost of the licenses involved are automatically deducted from my government-maintained account as the ‘printer comes alive, assembles the breakfast from cartridges the computer is happy to remind me are only half full. When they empty sometime in the next ten years, I’ll call the manufacturer and within fifteen minutes a machine will step through this block’s public quantum chute to clip the new ones in for me. It’s all government funded– no one goes hungry anymore unless it’s by choice.

I think of myself as a writer, but that’s just my brain’s archaic way of dealing with how much the world has changed in the last three centuries. There aren’t really any jobs anymore, not in the traditional sense. Everything is done by machines now. Centuries ago I was a teacher, but with extrapolative, interactive, holographic teaching environments provided through games that people actually want to play, nobody teaches anymore. Money comes from the government in the form of an allowance that is more comforting than useful. You automatically get a comfortable budget to work with each week, but the government is always happy to kick down a little extra virtual dough if you have a new project you want to work on. Design something new: music, a game, a novel, a piece of poetry, and if people buy the license to manufacture it, you get a few digital brownie points on your account. It’s archaic and everybody knows it, but it satisfies a need that fashion medicine can’t yet– a sense of difficulty, of acquisition bound by limitation. It’s a system of money analog– the only thing you can buy with your points are the licenses that others have designed, art to be ‘printed, music, movies, fashion medicine, anything anyone else has dreamed up that you might have the impulse to own or enjoy and which hasn’t passed into the public domain. Everything is legal in one sense or another now, so there are no shady dealings, no division between wealthy and poor, only numbers that reflect how much you’ve contributed to the culture in the interest of keeping it alive in a virtual eden.

In the end, anything you ‘print up, anything physical and non-digital that is, breaks or gets old. Our living spaces accommodate this with recyclers that break whatever they’re fed down to a molecular goop that the system uses to top off the cartridges in the ‘printer. The balance in your account goes up too, meaning you literally make money while you’re sitting on the toilet. The licenses for everything created are preserved in the system, so no matter what you recycle, you can always ‘print a new one up again if you find yourself missing it.

Breeding was outlawed centuries ago too. Don’t get me wrong, people still have sex, whether it’s with projections, robots, flesh clones or each other. Sure, there’s fashion medicine that aesthetics pick up or provide licenses for which remove all sexual drive and characteristics from the body, but even that is only a fad, a momentary trend that most of humanity chooses not to embrace. Accidental pregnancies don’t happen. Everyone is sterilized at birth, and the genes responsible for baby-itis and the ticking clock are switched off in the process. Our population is kept at an optimally manageable level based on a simple calculation of the amount of habitable space humanity acquires as new quantum chutes are placed on newly terraformed worlds against resource and facility availability. People still die by choice or by accident, but on the whole, eternal life in an ocean of possible ways and places of existing is a welcome vista that the mainstream chooses to embrace. Humanity spreads into the stars to insure itself against catastrophe, no matter how unlikely such occurrences become, as well as to increase the function of society as a whole, the formulation of culture within the greater brain in which each individual is like a neuron. New children are recombined from a database of stock DNA and people who want to volunteer to be parents are put on a list to receive these children at an embryonic stage. Pregnancy is optional, as is birth by localized quantum entanglement. There are no stillbirths, nobody dies in childbirth anymore, and children are raised by stay-at-home parents, a village of welcoming friends who are always only minutes away by quantum chute, no matter how far out in the universe they are, and an armada of digital and robotic constructs that teach children everything they need to know to become well rounded individuals within a society of artists, explorers and thinkers. Raw expression is the order of the day, the advancement of culture in new and strange directions. It’s the only thing we like to think that our machines can’t do.

In a sense, we have become like gods. We create in our minds the things that we desire and the machines make them for us, allow us to share them with a sprawling universe of humanity. The machines are the mechanical extensions of our bodies; they will never revolt, never turn on us. They are the way we interact with the universe without interacting with it directly, the body to our brain, and time is a meaningless expanse in which we create new things, hand-in-hand with all that we have created before. We have found ultimate freedom in a system of ultimate regulation.

The Hollow Earth

What if Edgar Allan Poe journeyed to the center of the Earth with a farm boy, a slave named Otho, a dog named Arf and a mule named Dammit? What if he encountered there such wonders as mile-wide technicolor flowers, giant, floating, light tentacled brain jellyfish, pig-whales and ebon gods who speak through telepathy? This book is like the tall tales of the gold rush on some serious hallucinogens.

Don't get me wrong-- I think Rudy Rucker has some charm when it comes to his writing, but some of the things that come out of his brain swing by and slam you right out of left field. On the whole, this piece was good, impressive in its own right, and very, very weird, even if it did drag a little in places. The biggest detractor to the awesomeness of this book is probably also its most impressive attribute-- its intelligence, the way that it steeps the reader thoroughly in the Virginia of 1836 to set the tone. Too bad almost half of the book is set-up and only the second half is the actual journey through the hollow earth.

But don't let that detract you from picking up a copy. Rucker's work is interesting and definitely worth a read. Fans of Steampunk will find some interest in this piece, but don't expect any industrial-techno-retro marvels. This one is straight up 1830's.

All in all, four stars out of five.

Get your copy here

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